National protests in Colombia have become increasingly violent over the last few weeks with human rights groups calling out the Colombian government for abuse of power and a violent reaction to protesters. The protests started on April 28th, specifically against a new proposed tax reform that sought to levy a greater tax burden on the middle and popular classes, in the midst of a pandemic that has exacerbated socio-economic gulfs in the country. The tax reform has now been withdrawn, but the government still has a major health and pension system overhaul on the table. The protests have grown to address inequalities across Colombia, especially with indigenous communities. The epicenter of these protests has become the city of Cali, in the department of Valle Del Cauca, located directly north of the Cauca department, where many producer organizations we work with reside, many of whom actively support indigenous rights and are at particular risk.
There are reports that leftist guerilla organizations have infiltrated and taken advantage of the protests to vandalize and help destabilize the government and force the Duque government to resign. Equally, there are allegations of paramilitary groups, along with the police and military, vandalizing property and blaming it on protestors, firing openly on them, conducting extra-judicial detentions, sexual abuse, torture, and disappearances. On May 15th, Popayán was the setting of a major protest in response to the rape and murder of a young woman by police, leading to the burning of a main police headquarters in the south of the city.
Fondo Paez, as of last Wednesday, had spent the previous 11 days in the mingas indigenas marching against proposed tax reforms, rising inequality, police violence and the government’s failure to adhere to the peace process. After initial overtures of dialogue between the government and the coordinating committees of the Paro Nacional, the mingas have announced a return to their communities, but a continued support of the general strike. Other sectors of the Minga have continued on from Cali to Medellin, on its way to Bogota. These protests come right at the start of harvest in northern Cauca. It will likely affect coffee supply in what is already forecasted to be a historically low harvest for Fondo Paez, due to excessive rains and cold at the beginning of 2021. They anticipate having less movement restrictions compared to last year when the Guardias Indigenas severely restricted movement to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fondo Paez has already started collecting coffee in La Placa but they have been keeping staffing low due to the ongoing presence at the protests.
Further to the south of the Cauca department, the COSURCA cooperative has been struggling with coffee collections. Although they stand in solidarity with protestors, they have been advocating for the development of a humanitarian corridor between the major cities of Buenaventura, Cali, Santander and Popayán in order to permit the transit of basic necessity items, medicine, oxygen and food products, as well as to allow farmers to bring their products to market, and potentially resume exports. COSURCA has exports scheduled as of May, and so far they are behind schedule, as they are unable to collect coffee in their main warehouse in Timbío/Popayán. There is still transit in rural communities, so base associations are collecting coffee and storing it in their community warehouses. They have collected about 1.5 containers at the associations, and collectively have a capacity of up to five containers. They predict that if transit does not resume by the beginning of June, they would be running out of space at the associations.
At Orgánica, although farmers participated in some of the initial demonstrations, they are now beginning to worry about the effect the national strike may have on the supply of basic goods and food items, and have subscribed to the call for a humanitarian corridor. For now, the association continues coffee collections amidst higher local prices.
As far as the effect on our coffee supply is concerned, this remains to be seen. Our exports from Cauca (Fondo Paez, COSURCA and Organica) are scheduled to begin in August and continue through October. We will remain in close communication with our partners to see how the situation develops. Negotiations between the Government and the strike representatives will continue. In the meantime, major roadways to export ports continue to be blocked throughout the country.
At ANEI, the situation has been less dire in Valledupar and in the Sierra Nevada, compared to how it has been in the southwest of the country. In Valledupar, there have been protests against the Duque government and the tax reform, but they have remained largely peaceful. The indigenous communities of ANEI have also manifested their support of protestors elsewhere in the country. They have seen some effect of the national strike in the run on prices and scarcity of food items being grown in the southern part of the country, and medicine being brought via the major port of Buenaventura. Harvest at Anei is scheduled for October, so as of yet, we don’t anticipate issues arising with coffee collections.
Felipe Gurdián Piza, Sourcing Manager
May 17, 2021